Oesterreicher takes oath of office as Circuit Court Judge for Carroll County

In a packed courtroom in the Carroll County Circuit Court’s historic courthouse, Maria Oesterreicher placed her hand on her very first Children’s Living Bible as she took her oath of office from Clerk of Court Heather DeWees to become a judge of the Circuit Court of Carroll County — and the first female judge in the court’s history.

Afterward, she embraced her son and her parents. They helped her put on the pressed black robe of her office before she took a seat on the bench between Judge Thomas Stansfield and Judge Fred Hecker.


Oesterreicher first thanked her family when she addressed the gathered guests, and said their love and loyalty had put her on the path of faith that had led her to the current moment.

Joining the court, “I feel like I’ve come home,” she said.


When she learned in 2014 that she would not continue in her role as a prosecutor with the State’s Attorney’s Office following the election, she quoted the song “Glorious Unfolding” in her farewell email to those with whom she had worked. The song includes lines such as, “There’s so much of the story that’s still yet to unfold/And this is going to be a glorious unfolding.”

Looking back, she would not have been able to campaign for the bench seat had she remained at the State’s Attorney’s Office, and she would not have made the decision to leave on her own.

Quoting the words of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who she would mention several times, she said, “So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.”

While Oesterreicher is the first woman to become a judge on Carroll’s Circuit Court, she had never considered herself a feminist and had not planned on addressing this fact strongly because she figured others would be tired of hearing about it.


She changed her mind when others reached out to her about how important it was for their daughters to see and meet successful women.

Maria Oesterreicher has made history, becoming the first female Circuit Court Judge in Carroll County history, defeating sitting Judge Richard Titus.

She quoted former Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton, the first woman to earn a major party’s nomination for the presidency, who said, “To all the little girls watching ... never doubt that you are valuable and powerful & deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.”

Cynthia Hatten Unglesbee made the official presentation of Oesterreicher to the court prior to the oath. Hatten Unglesbee often went up against Oesterreicher while she was a prosecutor and Hatten Unglesbee was a defense attorney. Even from the opposite side of the courtroom, she found Oesterreicher to be “fierce, articlate and impressive,” she said.

When Oesterreicher went into private practice as a defense attorney in 2015, Hatten Unglesbee wondered how she would perform, but found her to exhibit the same level of competency from the other side of the courtroom.

She predicted that any who wondered whether Oesterreicher was capable of fulfilling her new role as judge would discover that she was quite capable.

Hecker gave the traditional response from the Court and spoke the solemn duty of the court to maintain unwavering adherence to the rule of law.

He advised that although Oesterreicher had secured a professional achievement that few are fortunate enough to obtain, “You are embarking on a calling that demands the very best that you have to offer … beneath the veneer of prestige, you will make decisions that can and do alter the course of lives.”

He shared the oft-quoted idea that courage is the willingness to do what is right even when it is not popular.

“No one here doubts your courage,” he said.

Retired Judge JoAnn Ellinghaus-Jones of the Carroll County District Court said she had almost despaired about the possibility of getting a woman on the Circuit Court.

It had proved “far easier to send a woman to the moon than to get a woman on this Circuit Court,” she said.

Oesterreicher’s experience as a prosecutor arguing domestic violence cases had brought her up against some of the toughest cases that a prosecutor handles, Ellinghaus-Jones said. She responded with “thorough preparation and investigation, as well as some killer cross-examination,” she said.

Though her obligation to a no-drop policy for cases required by her grant-funded position made her unpopular with some, Ellinghaus-Jones said, she possessed the tenacity ‘to roll with it,” and remain un-flustered.

“This represents not just progress for women, but progress for everyone in Carroll County,” she said.

Oesterreicher’s adult son, Jackson, recalled moving to Eldersburg when he was in the third grade when his mother took a job in Carroll County. During her campaign, he electioneered for her, even during the downpours on Election Day. He joked that he would miss his mother as “a really good attorney” to argue against his traffic tickets.

Oesterreicher’s older sister, Dana Lowe, described her sister as determined, intelligent, and persistent.

“I can personally attest Maria has been arguing her whole life,” she joked. She was proud of her sister for lasting 14 years in her role as a senior assistant state’s attorney prosecuting domestic violence cases, a job that often sees high turnover rate due to the stress.

Candidate for Judge of the Circuit Court: Maria Oesterreicher

Oesterreicher joined the State’s Attorney’s Office in 2001 after three years in private practice. She served as a senior assistant state’s attorney for 14 years before returning to private practice in family and criminal defense law, and working at the Maryland Department of Human Services.

She first caught the law bug in a high school civics class where she took the role of an attorney in a civil case.

“I loved studying the statutes and the laws, and the fact patterns and specifically being able to argue both sides of it depending on how I was interpreting the law,” she said in an interview with the Times.

The precise moment she decided to seek the role of a judge isn’t clear, but she said, “I love being in the courtroom. I practiced prosecution and criminal defense, and I’ve been on both sides of civil cases.”

Being a judge, “Was the next logical step in my career, but it allowed me to remain in public service, and serve my community and utilize my strengths all at the same time,” she said.

With her previous experience on both sides of the courtroom, she said, “Judges get appointed all the time from various backgrounds, some prosecution, some defense, some civil ... and their goal is to be fair and impartial. You have to rule on cases based on the facts that you hear and the rule of law regardless of what your background was.”

The transition between election night and the investiture has been rapid.

Learning the results of the election with her parents beside her was “magical,” she said. “All of the judges called me the next day to welcome me to the Circuit Court.”


She’s been met with help and support in getting acclimated, she said, and for the next few weeks following her investiture, she will follow an orientation schedule sitting with other judges on a variety of different cases.


To conclude her remarks Thursday night, Oesterreciher said, “My place is in service to our community. May I never take it for granted.”

“Court is adjourned,” she said, bringing the gavel down.

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